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I believe that back when IM messages tended to be shorter, or at least when Twitter popularized the 120 character (or is it 140 now) limit, it made sense that the ENTER key would double up as a SAVE/SEND action because people didn't write long paragraphs.

However, since most applications now have a chat function/feature and that online collaboration is the norm, there seems to be some inconsistency in how the ENTER key works in different types of applications.

Commonly we see a separate SEND key (for example on LinkedIn when you try to send someone a message) so that the user might expect the ENTER key to work as a new line. There are also editors with markup/down languages that removes the need for an ENTER key in textareas.

Something that is frustrating and creates a poor user experience is when someone hits the ENTER key expecting to start a new line and instead ends up sending an incomplete message.

Is there a default behaviour on web or desktop (or mobile) applications these days where you might expect the ENTER key to work as a SAVE/SEND, and if not then how is this design pattern normally solved so there are no confusions.

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There definitely is some inconsistency across platforms: Facebook's in-browser messenger uses Enter for send, for instance. Assuming the intent is to support multi-line messages, it truly depends which behavior your particular users find most intuitive, which is a question you can only answer through research. Since they'll be bringing their expectations from whichever platforms they were already using, it makes the most sense to determine what those expectations are. Thankfully, this is straightforward enough to test.

Once you have enough data to arrive at a default for your app, there are a few things you can do to round out the experience. Most applications nowadays that don't use a separate Send button use Enter for one behavior, and Shift-Enter for the other, whether it's send/newline or vice-versa. It's worth adding that you can give folks the best of both worlds and make this configurable, with a toggle for "Use Enter to send message" or similar.

  • It seems like the designers at Facebook would have enough analytics to support their implementation choice. I think Shift-Enter is a good option, but I am not really aware of where it is explicitly clear to the user that it is possible. – Michael Lai Oct 3 '18 at 7:34
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    Analytics are great and answering questions like "how much" and "how many." In this instance, because there's no real universal consensus to draw on, I'd dive a little deeper with some combination of field studies and user interviews. Interviews will tell you what their attitudes are (stated expectations, preferences, and so on), while field studies will tell you whether those attitudes reflect behavior in your experience--they don't always line up! – David Watson Oct 3 '18 at 15:06

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